In the past six years, there have been reports from abroad of an unexplained rise in the birth prevalence rate of the congenital abdominal wall defect gastroschisis, while rates for the macroscopically similar anomaly omphalocoele have remained stable. The Dublin EUROCAT Registry of congenital anomalies monitors trends in the birth prevalence of birth defects in the eastern region of Ireland. We analysed births of children with omphalocoele and gastroschisis born in the period 1981-2000, with comparisons of a number of demographic and obstetric variables. During the 20 year period the birth prevalence rate for omphalocoele remained stable at 2.5/10,000 births, whereas the rate for gastroschisis increased significantly during the 1990s from 1.0/10,000 in 1991 to 4.9/10,000 in 2000. Most of the increase occurred among mothers under 25 years of age. Omphalocoele was associated with a relatively high proportion of other major congenital anomalies. This study showed that there has been an unexpected rise in the birth prevalence of gastroschisis in the region, similar to that experienced in other countries in the same time period and likely to have common aetiological features.